Without going too much into it, the last 4 months have been a whirlwind. My fiancee completed vet school, we bought a house an hour and a half away from the college town we've conducted our entire courtship in (and 2.5 hrs+ away from either family) and now, 33 days away from our imminent nuptuals, I have recently realised that I have sort of been in a rut at work, creatively. I've come up with a few things here and there, tried other old and new drinks, but all the travelling and planning and being apart has really got me destracted. So, in the spirit of not missing out entirely on a MxMo topic that is near and dear to my heart (if not entirely seasonal for the northern hemisphere), I offer the following tale about something brown and bitter. I hope you find it stirring.
The man who is about to be my father-in-law is a fascinating person. Reclusive yet charming, full of stories, and several lifetimes worth of interesting experiences. At 74, he's about as old as a man can be with a 25 year old daughter, but it really puts him in a different time-frame than most of our friends' parents. His
father rose from an enlisted man in the Texas National Guard to a battlefield commission during WW2, staying on in the regular army at war's end, and thus young Roger spent several key formative years living in Japan during the occupation, while his father was a Major in the HQ of some division or the other.
Fast forward a few years and he finds himself in the Army as well, a radio operator for the HQ of one of the armored units tasked with keeping the Soviets from completely overtaking West Germany for 48 hours while NATO regrouped to fight them. They were expected to be essentially annihilated in accomplishing this task, and though 50+ years later the whole thing seems like an abstraction, it was very real to these young men who constantly drilled and never knew when the alarm went off in the middle of the night wether someone would be shooting at them when they rode out into the West German countryside. Naturally, to take their mind of it all, they did a bit of drinking when they could.
Normally this would be accomplished by getting a pass to go into Berlin where they were stationed or travel to whatever other city they could get to. Or by smuggling stuff into the barracks. Roger had a different method. At the time, his father, now a Colonel, was the Military Attache to the US embassy in Yugoslavia, at a time when being that person was a very big deal due to the Cold War power plays at hand. He had arranged for his son to come visit him while on leave, and in order to travel efficiently he procured a civilian passport. At the time, for a soldier overseas to possess one of these was essentially contraband, because it allowed you to come and go from the base at will, no questions asked by the nervous sentries who didn't want to offend important diplomats or government contractors. He was of course supposed to surrender the passport when he returned from his trip. Naturally he didn't.
So one night he has no extra assignments, no guard duty, nothing to make him accountable to anyone on the post, and no pass to go to the city. No problem. A change of clothes, flash the passport to the sentry, and he's free. Doesn't take him long to get into trouble at a bar, where he somehow offends another American serviceman many times his size. The guy is about to beat him to a pulp when he takes his only chance at getting a lick in, socks the dude right in the face, and down he goes.
He's avoided injury, but now its only a matter of time before the MPs show up, and then bad things happen. Suddenly a German woman wearing much jewelry and furs who had been sitting down the bar comes up to him and instructs him to follow her. They go outside where a chauffeured Mercedes awaits and disappear into the night.
She speaks very little English, and he even less German, but they hit it off well and are having a grand time, barhopping around Berlin. Eventually they end up meeting some of her friends at a club where they are sitting at a large table and wouldn't you know they picked up an extra as well. Except this guy isn't an American. Or a Brit. Or a Frenchman. He's a Russian. (Keep in mind this was before the wall, and travel between sectors was not uncommon). And as they sit down there is an instinctive mutual dislike that must be settled. The Russian makes the first move with a thumb to his chest.
Roger, not to be outdone, motions likewise: "American"
The Russian never takes his eyes off of him but motions a waiter over. "Vodka, two." The drinks come, one for each man, and the Cold War Showdown has begun, right there in a bar in Berlin. They go round for round, the glasses pile up, neither man in any shape to be drinking further, neither willing to admit defeat. The stakes are too high. The contest goes round for round as the night wears on. Things are starting to get really hairy when the Russian, in the motion of knocking back his shot, fall off his chair and passes out on the floor. Score one for the good guys.
The next thing Roger remembers (or related remembering) was waking up the next morning in the German woman's apartment, feeling as though the siege of Stalingrad was being reenacted in his skull. He is as miserable as a man can be and suddenly realises that the time until he is supposed to be on post at muster is near at hand. The German woman comes in with a small oblong item, about the size of a rifle cartridge, wrapped in paper, and a glass of water.
"What is this?"
He unwraps the bottle, knocks it back, and downs the water. The taste is unlike anything he's ever experienced. So horriffically bitter his brain feels like it is being turned inside out. Fortunately for him, it was already inside out. The effects, both emetic and restorative, are immidiate. Its a miracle. The same Mercedes delivers him back to base where he is just in time to respond when his name is called at muster.
Later that day better judgement prevailed and he managed to destroy the passport. Or so he says.
A true American Hero. Saved by the bitters.